Consensus and Dissensus Among Economic Science Academics in Mexico

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Abstract

This paper reports results on consensus in economic opinions, scientific aspects of economics, as well as preferences and scientific activities, based on a survey applied to a defined population of economic science academics in Mexico. The results show that in the analyzed population there are areas of consensus, which, at least partially, is consistent with what was found in previous studies. The survey, which is broader than those used in other studies, identifies topics with significant dissensus whose determinants should be examined in future studies.

Posted for comments on 2 May 2019, 2:59 pm.

Comments (3)

  • Rafael Galvão de Almeida says:

    This is an excellent article, in fact I believe many readers would be able to understand the situation of economics in Mexico. My only suggestions for the current text would be to emphasize more the situation of economics in Mexico in relation to the international economic community, with possible especification to the readers of this journal (in other words, in relation to the fields of economic thought, methodology and political economy); and my second suggestion would be to incorporate two articles of the recent literature: Mark Horowitz & Robert Hughes. Political Identity and Economists’ Perceptions of Capitalist Crises. Review of Radical Political Economics, v. 50, n. 1, p. 173-193, 2018; and Henrik van Dalen. Values of Economists Matter in the Art and Science of Economics. Kyklos, v. 72, n. 3, p. 472-499, 2019. I know the reference list is already large, but these two also check current trends.

    Rafael Galvão de Almeida
    PhD. candidate at the Federal University of Minas Gerais

  • Jorge L. Andere says:

    We thank to Rafael Galvão de Almeida for reading and making useful comments to our paper.

    We will follow his suggestion on relating the situation of economics in Mexico and internationally. The papers mentioned by Galvão de Almeida serve this purpose. For example, van Dalen paper has some propositions that are equal or very similar to those we use in our work and that can be used to compare and discuss situations in the Netherlands and Mexico, specifically in the sections of economics as a science and economics assumptions. We also believe that other entries in our reference list can be used in the same way.

    Regards.

  • Roger H. Gordon says:

    This paper provides results from an internet survey initially sent to 1,300 academic economists, soliciting their views on a number of economic issues. Many of these questions had been posed in prior research in similar internet surveys, so that the main objective is to see to what degree responses have changed. Throughout, the focus is not so much on the policy implications of specific responses but instead on the degree to which there is a consensus among economists on each of these questions.

    One initial concern with use of an internet survey is that response rates tend to be very low, in this case only one in five. This raises a real question whether the subset who choose to respond is at all representative of academic economists as a whole. To the extent that the authors know any information about the underlying sample of 1,300 individuals, they should compare the respondents to the full sample in order to reassure readers that those who responded were largely representative of the underlying group. My guess is that younger individuals, those working part time, and retirees are more likely to respond, with the most successful individuals being unlikely to find the time to respond. If so, the respondents could be drawn more heavily from those whose knowledge of the academic literature is thin or dated. Response rates might also be higher among those with extreme views, who are looking for an outlet for their views.

    In order to measure consensus, the paper makes use of an “entropy” measure that it claims is the one most used in past studies of this type. If the fraction of the sample choose response (e.g., agree), then the value of this metric equals divided by the maximum feasible value of this metric. One other choice the authors made was to ignore responses of “no opinion” or “don’t know”, reweighting the remaining responses.

    Even though commonly used, I find this metric a questionable way to measure consensus in the profession. As an example, consider the following possible responses to the questionnaire:

    Strongly agree Agree No opinion Disagree Strongly disagree
    Statement 1 50% 50%
    Statement 2 50% 50%
    Statement 3 5% 90% 5%

    All three of these statements generate the same value for this entropy measure: 1.0, which implies the minimum degree of consensus. Statement 1 certainly represents such a minimum degree of consensus. Statement 2, in contrast, should indicate a large degree of consensus, since all respondents agree with the statement, differing only in the reported strength of their agreement. Statement 3 also should show substantial consensus, but a consensus indicating the lack of any real evidence based on the past academic literature.

    There are many alternative measures of the degree of consensus the authors might consider instead. The dominant fraction agreeing (or disagreeing) with a statement is one option. With the above three statements, this would be 50%, 100%, and 5%, providing a sharp distinction among these three possible patterns of response. A very similar measure would be the standard deviation of the response, assigning a value of 1 to agree or strongly agree, 0 to don’t know, and -1 to disagree or strongly disagree. Here the values for the above patterns of response would be 1, 0, and 0.016. These two approaches differ in the degree to which they highlight no opinion, since for example they would treat differently the assumed responses to statement 1 from those where half agreed and half had no opinion. A third approach would be the mean response, which would be 0, 1, and 0 for the above three statements.

    I would also urge the authors to make a clearer distinction between distributional and efficiency issues. There is no reason for there to be consensus on distributional preferences among professional economists, even if there should be pressure towards consensus for statements where efficiency issues are dominant, at least to the degree that there is empirical evidence. To what degree is there less of a consensus on statements that largely raise distributional issues?

    Of course, attitudes towards many statements include both efficiency and distributional considerations. As an example, take attitudes towards use of tariffs. The theoretical literature argues that there would be an efficiency loss from use of tariffs when the country is a price-taker in the world market for a good, providing an efficiency argument against use of tariffs on the grounds that Mexico is a “small” country. But even for a small country, there could be a few goods where the country is not a price taker in the world market, providing some efficiency case for tariffs on these goods. In this case, the response from a profession economist would depend on which goods might face tariffs. Even in this context, there would likely be an efficiency gain from signing a trade agreement preventing all signatory countries from making (much) use of tariffs, given the joint efficiency loss from use of tariffs. Tariffs can also provide an efficiency gain, though, to the extent that tariffs offset other distortions, e.g. reestablish a level playing field between domestic and foreign producers in the retail market when there are differential taxes across domestic firms.

    Regardless there are always distributional effects across industries, skill groups, and consumers with differing consumption bundles, from use of tariffs, providing an alternative rationale for tariffs. However, the political decision-making process on tariffs favors concentrated interests. Trade agreements are often argued for as a way to tie a government’s hands to avoid this prisoners’ dilemma outcome on efficiency grounds.

    Many responses then are possible to such a statement about tariffs even among those fully knowledgeable about the academic literature, given alternative distributional preferences as well as alternative inferences about the policy context of the question. (The academic literature on many of the other statements has comparable complexity.) Disagreement among professional economists due to different inferences about the policy context, though, would reflect ambiguity of the statement rather than any underlying lack of consensus.

    To what degree, though, is the lack of consensus a reflection of differing distributional preferences (or political leanings)? To this extent, the stated opinions of economists do not carry the hoped for weight of professional expertise. Do patterns of response, for example, divide into liberal vs. conservative political leanings, rather than reflect a common base of evidence from the academic literature? Here, one would expect to see the pattern of responses among the set of statements breaking into two (or more) “camps”. Since the authors have acquired some information about what “camp” each of these respondents identifies with, one approach would be to look at the degree of consensus within each camp compared to that in the whole sample. More consensus within a camp rather than between camps would then provide caution about how to interpret the stated views of economists.

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